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20 Questions with... James Jenkins

James Jenkins is a Suffolk UK based writer of gritty realism and noir. He has work published online and in print including Bristol Noir, ROI Faineant, A Thin Slice of Anxiety and Punk Noir Magazine. His debut novel Parochial Pigs is available on Amazon and published by Alien Buddha Press. The sequel Sun Bleached Scarecrows was released by Anxiety Press in March 2023.

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Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?

Hi Sam. Thanks for asking me to do this interview. My name is James Jenkins and I’m a UK Suffolk based writer of gritty brit noir and dirty realism. I grew up in a coastal village with a neighbouring port town. We were lucky to have that mix between nature and the sea but also with a small town. It was the best of both worlds and probably why I love seeing where nature and industrial entwine. My parents were very encouraging when it came to my creativity but still taught me the importance of stability. Both have a great taste in music and are politically sound of mind (in my own opinion! Haha). I owe them a lot for bringing me and my sister up the way they did. They worked hard to provide for us when we were growing up, it taught me a lot about appreciating what we had and working with it.

Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do / did you do?

I’m not sure if I ever knew I wanted to be a writer. I definitely had a love of reading from a young age and as most of my school reports said “James has a very vivid imagination. At times it looks like his mind is elsewhere than the classroom”. I’d decant my heart into stories and poems at primary school but by the time I reached high school my mind was purely focused on writing music. Unfortunately, that dream never quite took off and as a result I’m still in the same job I started after leaving school. I’m a qualified plumber and heating engineer which is nothing to write home about but does provide time to write.

Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.

Sun Bleached Scarecrows, a gritty crime read littered with dark humour and a sequel to my debut novel Parochial Pigs.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on the final instalment to my book series. It would be going quicker if it wasn’t for the sporadic short stories that keep stealing my attention.

Do you have a writing routine, and if so, what is it?

Sit down at writing desk. Stand up from writing desk. Sit down. Get up. Go for vape. Repeat process until finally starting to write something.

Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write ‘on the move’?

I do most writing from my desk in the family living room. My wife probably believes this is so I can be around to help with the kids, but the actual truth is I want her to listen to every other sentence I write. A lot of my editing and short stories are done inside my work van which helps. Really, as long as I have something to write or type with then I can always find somewhere to write.

What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best advice you’ve heard?

Connect with people in the writing community. This has been the best place for me to gain advice. It really is a very beautiful and welcoming place if you can avoid the odd idiot. Unfortunately, you are going to come across jealously and bitter people. Every writer has their own path and some of the best advice I was given by a fellow writer was to make your own journey. Do not compare yourself to others. Being unique and writing your own path is what makes you stand out from the rest.

Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in between?

Ye Gods! You’d have thought after years of playing live on stage in bands might have prepared me for this. Writing is so much barer and more personal though. You also can’t hide amongst your band members. Somewhere in between sums it up perfectly. I want to do it, know I have to, panic every time leading up to it and then find I really enjoyed it until the next time.

Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if so?

Absolutely. I’m a big fan of gangster film and fiction. My work usually involves a character from the criminal underworld and more times than most explores the worst in humans. I enjoy poking fun at the flaws of toxic masculinity and any abuse of power. I think it’s how I channel being a lefty in this day and age.

Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?

I worry about this. In relation to the above question I fear that the irony will be lost in my writing and I’ll project the wrong message. My characters are disgusting human beings and I like to explore the worst in people. Fiction definitely gives me more freedom to be artistically creative, but anything can be manipulated or misunderstood in the wrong minds. For me as a fiction writer my only purpose is to entertain. For those in non-fiction I do believe that the road of moral purpose is a much thinner one. I think there’s a very real problem with this in modern mainstream journalism.

Do you write between genres or not?

I have contributed to a charity Christmas horror anthology over the last two years. This is as far away from dirty realism as I’ve ventured so far but I wouldn’t rule anything out in the future.

Which living writers do you most admire?

Chuck Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh and J.J. Connolly. I would have to add indie writers John Bowie and Stephen J. Golds to that list more recently.

Which dead writers do you most admire?

Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Henri Charriere and Ken Kesey.

What’s the book you wish you’d written?

Layer Cake.

What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc?

Music is huge to me. Performing, writing or just listening. My other most influential place to write about recently is the river Gipping that runs through my town and beyond. It’s a compelling blend of natural beauty and rusted shopping trolleys depending what part you find yourself on.

Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?

Yes, I do. It doesn’t always work but I try to do some music or recently visit the river. It can be frustrating when it still doesn’t go away but I’ve learnt to be patient. It comes back eventually. There’s nothing worse than forcing yourself to write.

What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?

I have a few! I’ve been overwhelmed by friends and colleagues who have bought my books because they want to support me. A few have said that they don’t normally read but after reading PP they have started looking for other books. That’s what it’s all about for me. The other most important thing to hear was that my previous fears about being misunderstood was not the case. Knowing that people have understood the irony in my writing is verification that I’m doing something right.

How do your family and friends feel about your writing?

They are amazing! My mum, stepdad, dad, dister and brother in-law are so supportive. I have so many friends to thank taking an interest in my writing. I’m very lucky to have some very honest people in my life too. My wife especially is both my biggest critic and supporter. My style and genre isn’t for everyone so the fact that some of those friends and family have committed themselves to reading my work is one hell of a show of support. Couldn’t and wouldn’t do it without them.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

Absolutely! It is without a doubt our local bookshop Dial Lane Books Ipswich. Andrew is a unique human who fights the pull of the mainstream to do it his way. The man is the rock n roll of literature. The support he gives to local writers is on another level and incredibly selfless.

How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?

I can only see us becoming more reliant on Amazon. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you have to sell your soul to the giant that is. However, Amazon does take the power away from the big publishers and give more writers a platform to release their work. Andy Weir (The Martian) is a great example of a self-published writer who has used this to their advantage. As long as we as writers are reliant on Amazon’s accessibility and reach then they will continue to grow.

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